Tag Archives: Abigail Breslin

Final Girl (2015)


Interesting surreal thriller that doesn’t have quite enough steam to make it through its 90-minute running time.

Final Girl takes its title from a slasher movie trope where there’s always a girl left at the end to confront the killer. This film tries to subvert the concept by getting Abigail Breslin to play a girl who has been trained since infancy by Wes Bentley to take on a group of sadistic boys (led by Hunger Games’ alum Alexander Ludwig) who like to hunt blonde girls for sport.

What follows is a deadly cat-and-mouse game between Breslin and four schmucks who have no idea what they’re in for. It’s violent, it’s bloody, and it’s not hard to guess what happens, though the way in which everything happens might surprise you.

Debut director Tyler Shields does have a nice visual style that brings a misty, old-fashioned feel to the aesthetics, which is helped by the 1950s clothing and automobiles. But once you see past this there’s not much to sustain the film’s suspense and intrigue.

It’s basically a stylish exploitation revenge flick where the vengeance is carried out by some poor girl who’s been trained to do nothing else. To me, it’s only mildly entertaining and not particularly satisfying.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Maggie (2015)


The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is back in the post-apocalyptic depressor, Maggie, about a young girl’s final days before turning into a zombie.

I heard a lot of mixed things about the movie before I finally had a chance to watch it, and I think much of it is misleading. For starters, I don’t think much of Arnie’s performance, which has been hailed as the best of his career — like that’s saying much. It doesn’t even feel like he’s in it all that much, as the story focuses more on the eponymous protagonist (played by Abigail Breslin). Yeah he’s fine in the role and probably showed a wider range of emotions than usual, but I actually think a large handful of other actors could have done it better. Am I crazy for thinking that the film is better at demonstrating Arnie’s limitations rather than shattering them?

Secondly, I don’t think the film feels like it has ripped off the bestselling PS3 game The Last of Us, as several people have pointed out. I should know, because I just played it twice and think it’s the best video game of all time. Sure, there’s the zombie angle and the father-daughter-ish relationship, but apart from that there’s not a lot of similarities.

So what is Maggie really like? Slow and really depressing. It starts with Arnie finding Maggie, who has been bitten and has been given several weeks before she finally loses herself and becomes a flesh-eating zombie. The problem is treated as a “virus”, and as such the infected are allowed to return home until they reach a certain point, when they will have to be forcibly moved to quarantine.

The rest of the film requires you to sit through Maggie’s agonising transformation and constant reminders of what she’ll eventually become and the terrible decision Arnie will have to make. It’s an interesting idea, because typically in zombie movies people don’t get a lot of time before they turn.

In many ways, Maggie is not all that different to a story about a young patient having to deal with a life-ending disease like cancer, though I suppose the zombie idea puts a slightly different spin on things. But does it really conjure up enough different emotions to justify it as a plot device? I’ll say yes, but only barely.

My main gripe about the film is that it’s just not a very enjoyable experience, and it doesn’t make up for it in other ways. As if the premise is not bleak enough already, the visuals are very grey and very dark all the way through. The pace is also deliberately slow, without a lot of ups and downs, making the 95-minute running time feel uncomfortably long. Moreover, there is a sense of inevitability considering there’s really only one way things can end. It’s not a film that gives itself a lot of room to maneuvre.

For a zombie movie there’s not much zombie action, with most of the scenes of the undead aimed at generating sympathy as opposed to fear. It’s a horror film where the horror comes from the depressing knowledge of what Maggie will become. Some of it is scary, but it’s more sad than anything.

The drama, the clear focus of the movie, is solid thanks to the strong performance of Breslin and Arnie doing the best he can. While it is effective at making you feel upset, there was never a time when I felt overwhelmed by emotion, perhaps because there weren’t any emotions I wasn’t expecting. Maybe if there was a bit of hope — even false hope — I would have found it more meaningful, and accordingly, more powerful.

Having made Maggie sound a lot worse than it actually is, I will admit that I found it to be an interesting premise with a few nice moments of reflection on the pointlessness of fighting a disease that will rob you of your dignity and who you are before the bitter end. There was one excellent scene in which Maggie attends a bonfire party where her friends — including an infected boy — and they discuss the difficult options faced by the infected and those caring for them. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of these moments to take advantage of the premise and make Maggie the type of well-rounded, rewarding experience it could have been.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Ender’s Game (2013)


I’ve already put Orson Scott Card’s 1985 award-winning sci-fi novel on my reading list for the year, but I couldn’t help but watch the film adaptation of Ender’s Game in advance. Directed by Gavin Hood (the South African who won a Best Foreign Pic Oscar for Tsotsi and made the first Wolverine film), the film stars Hugo’s rapidly growing Asa Butterfield as the titular Ender, a kid chosen to lead a rebellion against an alien race in the 22nd century. Butterfield is backed up by a superb all-star cast led by Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin.

I’ll be upfront: Ender’s Game starts off as a really intriguing young adult sci-fi thriller that is fairly entertaining and bolstered by solid and creative special effects. But by the end of the film it felt like a wasted opportunity that barely scratched the surface of what it could have been. Not having read the book, I don’t know how much depth Card goes into in terms of exploring this fascinating future world, but the film version is riddled with unexplained mysteries and gaps that make you question the plot’s common sense and logic. It was as though most of the important background to the story was purposely omitted because it would have been too difficult to explain.

The basic premise is this: in 2086, an alien race attacks Earth but some brave military commander sacrifices himself and saves everyone. Fifty years later, the war is still raging and young Ender (Butterfield), who is constantly monitored along with the other kids through a device in their neck, is chosen by Colonel Graff (Ford) to join the International Fleet, where they train kids like him to fight in the war.

The majority of the film’s 114-minute running time takes place at the Battle School, where Ender learns new skills, strategies, and takes part in war games with his fellow recruits. There is a sense of excitement when all of this takes place because you don’t know what to expect, but what makes the viewing entertaining is Ender’s interactions with the other cadets, and seeing how he hones his natural abilities to rise from the crop to become a leader. Yes, it’s yet another one of those “chosen one” stories, but for the most part it was executed effectively.

Asa Butterfield, who I loved in Hugo, is excellent as Ender. He’s rail thin but you can believe his intelligence and toughness, though there is a strange sort of distance about his character (it feels almost psychopathic) that makes him difficult to really like. Harrison Ford is basically an old Han Solo, while Viola Davis is pretty underutilized as his sidekick. Hailee Steinfeld gets a decent chunk of screen time as a fellow cadet and potential love interest, but Abigail Breslin doesn’t get to do much as Ender’s earthbound sister.

The problem I had when watching Ender’s Game was the feeling that I didn’t understand the world Card had built in his book(s). We get hints of some kind of semi-post-apocalyptic world that is dominated by an autocratic government from some of the Earth scenes, but it wasn’t like they were living among the rubble of an annihilated planet. I was curious why the world had become what it became, and how it happened. And why were they recruiting kids to fight an alien war? We know there are still capable adults, and it is said that only “millions”, not “billions” perished in the initial battle. We don’t even know what the status of the war is, except that Earth is obviously still under some kind of threat.

The vagueness extends to the battle games the kids play to train themselves. It’s a visual spectacular, with teams in futuristic space suits shooting laser beams around an obstacle course of sorts in zero gravity conditions. But we have absolutely no idea what the rules are or even what they are doing, which reminded me, very randomly, of when Conan O’Brien tried to provide commentary at some international Wold of Warcraft competition.


I understand it’s probably all too difficult to explain in a movie, but at least give us something other than the expressions of the actors to at least let us know if they’re winning or losing. And by the way, it’s not clear how any of their training helps them prepare for real battle, which appears to be fought strategically inside space ships anyway! Too much just didn’t make sense, especially the final climax of the movie, which was somewhat predictable but also inexplicably ludicrous (can’t say much more than that without spoilers).

Having said all that, Ender’s Game was still relatively enjoyable to watch as a popcorn flick, particular at the beginning. If you don’t think and just go for the ride along with all the big stars, you might even find it pretty cool. But the holes just kept adding up, and the more you think about it, the more the whole narrative just falls apart. Given that the film has been a box office bomb (barely made back its $110 million budget), it’s unlikely we’ll have the opportunity to understand more of the world depicted in the film in future entries.

3 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part I

My furious rally continues. Here are a bunch of 2013 movies I have yet to review, four at a time. Here is the first wave.

The Call (2013)


Ever since Catwoman I have been wary of anything Halle Berry does. The Call, about a woman at an emergency call center, did not sound very appealing to me, but positive word of mouth got me to change my mind.

I’m glad I watched it in the end because The Call is a thrill ride that manages to keep up the suspense for the majority of its 94-minute running time. Berry, the call center worker, is haunted by a previous call which resulted in the death of a young girl. Months later, she takes another call, this time from another teenager played by Abrigail Breslin (she’s growing up real fast), who has been abducted by possibly the same guy.

Much of the film follows Berry on the phone as she tries to figure out how to keep the girl alive and how to track down her kidnapper. I was impressed with how director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) kept coming up with different ways to keep the ball rolling without making it seem repetitive or too ridiculous.

That said, I was really irritated by the stupidity of Breslin’s character and her incessant screaming and whining (all to her detriment) — and a part of me really wanted her to get killed — though to be fair if she wasn’t so stupid she probably would have been rescued in about 20 minutes and there would be nothing left to film.

On the whole I really enjoyed The Call, which was on its way to being a huge surprise hit for me until the moronic ending that made absolutely no sense whatsoever and downgraded my rating by at least half a star.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)


I was one of those kids who loved magic growing up and bought magic kits and had dreams of becoming a magician some day (like David Copperfield). So while The Incredible Wonderstone looked pretty awful from the posters and trailer I was willing to give it a go. Besides, it has Steve Buscemi, the greatest actor of all time.

Well, it wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t disastrous either. Steve Carrell and Buscemi are best buds and old school magicians performing in Vegas, but their act is getting old and their thunder is being stolen by new “street” magicians such as Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) — an obvious caricature of douches like Criss Angel and David Blaine.

There are a few decent jokes in Burt Wonderstone, but most of them come courtesy of the crazy antics of Carrey, who is the best he has been in a very long time (considering his last few live action films were Mr Poppers Penguins, I Love You Philip Morris, Yes Man and The Number 23 — yikes). The late great James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin are also excellent in supporting roles, but Carrell is just not very likable and Buscemi’s talents are completely wasted. And Olivia Wilde is painfully miscast as the love interest who is just too young for Carrell.

In the endBurt Wonderstone just isn’t consistently funny enough to make it a good film and completely fizzles as it enters the final act, which is a shame because it started off quite strongly.

2.75 stars out of 5

Now You See Me (2013)


Another magic movie, but Now You See Me, unlike Burt Wonderstone, actually received good word of mouth despite lukewarm reviews from critics.

As for me, I have mixed feelings about it too. I think it is a fantastic concept — four magicians of diverse skills (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are brought together by a mysterious leader who gets them to perform otherworldly but legally questionable acts, while a detective (Mark Ruffalo) is hot on their feels trying to figure out how the stunts were carried out so he can arrest them. It’s an alluring premise for a caper movie and the magic tricks, some of which are explained, are fun to watch and debunk.

On the other hand, the film is kinda rough around the edges and suffers from a lack of precision. There is almost no character development and the dialogue is atrocious, giving the film a B-grade feel and a sense that the talents of the all-star cast are being wasted. All the effort was put into the the style but not enough attention was paid to the substance.

The film relies on its twists and turns to keep audiences intrigued, but for me the big reveal was rather predictable (maybe I’ve seen too many movies). Still, I had a good time with it, though it was so unmemorable that I had totally forgotten to review it until now.

3.25 stars out of 5

Warm Bodies (2013)


A zombie movie from the perspective of a zombie sounded like it had potential for some great laughs. And the first few moments of Warm Bodies were indeed promising as we watched zombies wander around aimlessly and trying to communicate through a series of hilarious grunts.

But Warm Bodies is really a romantic comedy masquerading as a zombie movie, which is a good thing because the zombie gimmick gets old pretty quickly. It has obvious allusions to Romeo & Juliet, as our protagonist zombie (arguably the best looking zombie in movie history), Nicholas Hoult, is named “R”, while his love interest, Aussie Teresa Palmer, is “Julie”.

To make the film work as a romantic comedy, many fundamental rules we know about zombies are bent, if not broken. I didn’t have a problem with that per se because it was important to look at the zombies as the “good guys”, but I didn’t think it was necessary to create another breed of zombies, known as “Bonies”, so we are clear who the real “bad guys” are.

So Warm Bodies was just OK for me. It had a great premise and a few early laughs, but as a romantic comedy it wasn’t particularly romantic or funny once the zombie gimmick ran its course. It’s not a bad date movie because it is sweet and has charm, but I think it falls way short of the cult classic status it was perhaps aiming for.

3 stars out of 5

PS: That’s four very average movies.

Movie Review: Zombieland (2009)

If I had to sum up the zombie comedy Zombieland in five words, it would be “Pretty good but not great”.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (no previous work worthy of noting), it has a premise we’ve seen a few times before – the country (America) being overtaken by zombies and an unlikely hero trying to survive against all odds.  That’s about as much as I want to give away.  As with most films, try and avoid the previews if you can.  Plenty of great scenes, lines and jokes were unnecessarily ruined by the previews I had the misfortune of coming across.  If I hadn’t seen them in advance I probably would have liked the film more.

What sets Zombieland apart from other zombie movies of late is that it is more comedy than horror, and what sets it apart from other zombie comedies is that it is actually pretty funny.  It’s definitely more Shaun of the Dead than 28 Days Later, but the laughs aren’t as silly or outrageous – not quite, anyway.  Much of the humour stems from the quirky character traits of, and the witty banter between, the two leads, played by Jesse Eisenberg (from Adventureland, who seems forever destined to battle Michael Cera for all the goofy, awkward boy roles) and Woody Harrelson (last seen by me in 2012, the movie not the year).  Rounding out the main quartet are Emma Stone (Jules from Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (My Sister’s Keeper, Little Miss Sunshine), who both put in solid performances without stealing the show.

Zombieland knows exactly what kind of movie it is trying to be.  Extremely gory (no shortage of over-the-top blood and guts), tongue-in-cheek, and nonchalant about the fact that the whole country (and probably world) has been overrun by zombies who just want to eat human flesh.  And yet, Zombieland does have charm and it does have heart, though it never steps over the line into melodrama as that would mean caring too much – and that would just be too uncool for a movie like this.

That said, Zombieland is far from perfect.  There are a number of slower bits strewn throughout the film, far more than there should be.  And while it is funny, not all the jokes hit the mark, and sometimes it even risks trying too hard to be amusing.  And of course, though it is technically a comedy/horror, the film is not particularly frightening.  The zombies are there more for the laughs than the chills, and you never get the sense that there is any real danger.

Weighing up all the pros and cons, I’d probably say Zombieland is a 3-star movie that is worth watching, but to be honest I wanted it to be much more than just a sweet, mildly enjoyable film.  However, there is a special surprise in Zombieland that is worth a whole half-star by itself – hands down the most unexpected, insane, hilarious cameo I’ve seen in…possibly ever!  Accordingly…

3.5 stars out of 5!